Op/Ed by Denver Riggleman
I am a businessman. Everything I do in business, aside from taking care of my people and customers, comes down to Return on Investment (ROI). ROI is a way of calculating (sometimes subjectively) what revenue or “pay-off” will occur based on investment into a product or service. This projection allows business owners to secure an investment in a venture or to rationalize a previous investment that can be leveraged into other products or services.
There are many ways to calculate ROIs (so I’m going to simplify for this editorial). A good ROI is usually calculated at somewhere around 7:1 or 8:1 if we are looking at a dollar to dollar increment. Anything higher than 8:1 is spectacular. I have been fortunate to have stellar ROIs, sometimes as high as 30:1. High ROIs can be a function of time also—but for the sake of simplicity I will use “10:1” as a worthy ROI over a 10-year period. For every dollar invested, I will earn $10 on the back end. Using the 10:1 ratio as a baseline, Dominion Power had quite the fine day at the expense of customers and taxpayers across the Commonwealth—an almost unimaginable ROI.
What happened Monday in the Senate Commerce and Labor committee should bother everyone. Senator Chap Petersen’s SB 1095, a Senate bill that would restore refunds to Dominion and Appalachian Power customers (a total of $106.7 million) and suspend legislation sponsored by Frank Wagner in 2015 (SB 1349), was defeated by a wide margin (12-2).
Wagner’s SB 1349 had suspended customer refunds for 5 years based on his argument that Obama-directed EPA regulations had created “regulatory uncertainty” for Dominion Power. SB 1095 would have restarted the automatic refunds for those overpayments because, well, Obama will no longer be President. Senator Petersen understood two things…that Wagner’s prior argument was tripe and that Trump’s election would mitigate those regulatory concerns.
Let’s calculate an ROI just for the $106.7 million in “over-earned” refunds kept by Dominion—not considering their net profits on over $11.5B in revenue for 2015 (yes that’s “billion” with a ‘b’).
Dominion Power donated $433,585 to the members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee (those who voted for the bill) over the past 5 years (donations between 2011-2016 per VPAP). Going back 10 years, Dominion gave a total of $606,366 (donations between 2006-2016) to these Senators.
That’s a heck of a return on investment, and it’s wrong. Dominion’s $606.4K investment into the campaigns of Senate Commerce and Labor Committee members since 2006 who voted to kill the bill resulted in a tidy 176:1 ROI (roughly).
I would like to think that none of our elected officials would be influenced by these donations, but how can we tell? Dominion, although investor-owned, is a state-regulated monopoly, and its profits are guaranteed by actions of the legislature. A public-private homogenous entity leveraging the lawmakers with campaign contributions is closer to graft than capitalism. Dominion should not be allowed to lobby the legislature nor donate money. The risk of corruption is too great.
Too often, lobbyists and the donor class look at legislators as simple tools to enhance their bottom lines and portfolios. Dominion is not the only player, but they are certainly the largest.
Make no mistake, my position is not anti-business (I’m in business myself) and God knows I have no objection to profits. I know our modern society depends upon reasonably priced energy, and lots of it. But I’m violently against pay-to-play. One should not have to be a donor to get attention from the legislature, and state sponsored monopolies should not be allowed to influence, or attempt to influence, the legislature. At best it gives the appearance of cronyism, and at worst, well, you can decide for yourself.
There is a reason why public faith in our institutions is dying. The cancer of pay-to-play eats away at the foundations of honest, representative government.
When I am Governor, I will fight to bar donations from Dominion to legislators, and outlaw lobbying by state monopolies and state agencies. It’s unethical. It’s un-American. It’s got to end, and I intend to put a stop to it.